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Awkward Conversations We’ve Had in Korea

March 23, 2012


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da da da da da da da da DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DA… That’s the sound of TL;DR Thursdays! Get it? It’s the theme song. It sounded better in my head. This week we had an interesting question regarding awkward conversations we’ve had in Korea! We mention a few of the very oddest conversations we’ve had in our video, but truthfully we surprisingly haven’t had that many awkward conversations. However, I’m quite sure we were the cause of awkward conversations with our Korean-English mash up.

I (Martina here) didn’t really think that much about how creative the English language actually was until I started to seriously learn Korean. It’s amazing how English can take any word and flip its meaning so quickly based on the context of the situation. For example, I can describe a good piece of cherry pie as “moving, beautiful, sparkling, pretty” and my friends will understand immediately what I mean. It’s not a literal description, but a feeling or representation of being happy with something. But when I tried to describe food as “pretty” in Korean, I was quickly corrected that food can’t be “pretty” that word is only used for people, clothing, or nature. There is pretty much only one way we have EVER heard food described in Korean, and that’s as “delicious” or “yummy” (mashisoyo or mashitda 맛있다) and super rarely I’ve heard “awesome” DAAAEEEEEEBAK (대박) from the younger crowd. Because of the fluidity of the English language we often use Korean words inappropriately to other Koreans, but it make sense to our English speaking mind. This has happened countless times, where I take an English phrase or description and attempt to use it in Korean conversation. Sometimes even a basic phrase or word can be completly misunderstood.

For example, when you want to get your food in a take out container, you say “pojang” (포장) but if you want to get your coffee in a paper cup, you should say “take out”. I didn’t know about this “takeout” phrase at first (silly me) so one time I had my latte accidentally served in a glass mug and when I asked for the latte to be “pojang”, they handed me a paper bag. I tried to point to my mug and mimic leaving the store but the guy just looked at me dumbfounded. I pointed at the paper cups and so he put a paper cup in my paper bag. -___-` I was totally floored that he couldn’t understand “pojang” as meaning takeout coffee. Luckily, a Korean person beside me understood and said to him, “takeout” which really sounds more like “taekowtu” in Korean. The barista was all like, “OHHHHH SHE MEANS TAKE OUT!” and he put my latte in a paper cup.

I learned that the English word takeout is now a Korean word, but most importantly I learned that not all Korean words were concepts that could be interchanged. I’ve run into this awkward communication moment several times, especially when asking for something “cold” by using the word chuweo 추워 which describes me feeling cold instead of the word chagaun 차가운 which can describe the temperature of my food. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a very multicultural Toronto which had people of all cultures with all levels of English that spoke with all types accents (including my very own Baka) that helped me to quickly understand someone’s intentions regardless of if they used the correct word. After working at a coffee shop I myself have heard coffee asked for as take out, to go, take away, in paper, for the car, in my hand, hand held, a tree cup (yup), and sometimes with no words and just a simple hand movement. I supposed Korea is still new to dealing with foreigners speaking their language with an accent or with broken Korean. Nonetheless, after these awkward moments in Korea, we usually share a little laugh at our awkward communication moment and I usually ask for a repeat of the word so I can get it right next time. Everyone is always more then happy to help me learn a new word, and when I comes to my Korean friends, they’re already mixing English and Korean together to form a new kindof language.



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